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22 Mar 2007 : Column 341WH—continued

Even in Saudi Arabia—a relatively rich country—where there were injustices and relatively poorer and disfranchised communities, the risk of violence increased. It is sometimes easier to focus on terrorists and their actions than on the deeper causes that build up to individual actions or full-blown wars. Far more people are killed every year in developing countries by
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AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and diarrhoea than by terrorism. Yet the military response to events cannot be separated from the work required to get a country back on its feet. Today, we are involved in military action in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and at the same time, there is widespread acceptance that the redevelopment of those countries is vital if they are to return to peace. Today is not the time to go into the reasons for that involvement, but the link is clear, and hopefully the Secretary of State will update us on progress on the reconstruction of those countries.

In 2000, more than half the countries in Africa and 20 per cent. of its population were affected by conflict. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, West has mentioned, more than 6 million people died and 20 million were displaced as a result of conflict in the 1990s. The scale of the devastation in countries such as Sudan, the DRC and Somalia is hard to imagine. The word “displaced” does not do justice to the suffering of those who have survived and ended up in refugee camps or hiding from their attackers—to end every day by hiding in a forest is no way to live.

Given the importance of conflict resolution, halting the flow of arms to conflict-affected countries is a vital precondition for development. In recent years, concerns about the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction have distracted us from an even greater threat to humanity, the trade in conventional arms. I have seen for myself, the devastating effect of arms trading in conflict zones across the world. Far too often, guns are pouring into countries which are already suffering from conflict or which are close to civil war. The real weapons of mass destruction are Kalashnikovs—AK47s.

No one here would dispute the fact that small arms frequently end up in the hands of someone other than the intended recipient. All too often, they find their way into conflict zones. Getting to grips with that problem is of vital importance and requires action on a national and global level. Strong common standards for the global trade in conventional weapons must be an international priority. In that respect, it is crucially important that we progress towards an international arms control treaty, which must be a central part of conflict prevention. I was pleased to see a UN vote in favour of the recent UK-led resolution on that matter, and I congratulate the Secretary of State on his part in that. However, keeping up momentum will be key, given the lack of enthusiasm in some quarters. I look forward to an update from him.

Although I commend the Secretary of State for his work on securing an international agreement on the arms trade, much work needs to be done in this country to ensure that we are part of the solution and not part of the problem. The fact remains that, rightly or wrongly, the UK is one of world’s leading arms exporters. As such, it is crucial that we conduct our affairs ethically and responsibly.

Malcolm Bruce: Does my hon. Friend not think that that is underlined by the fact that UK arms sales to Africa actually exceed the UK aid budget for Africa? It could be argued that one cancels out the other.

John Barrett: It is sad to say that the figures mentioned by my right hon. Friend are stark. One of the problems is that apart from official exports, we do not know the full impact. That issue relates to the Quadripartite Committee, which was mentioned earlier.

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As I have said, it is crucial that we conduct our affairs ethically and responsibly. The current UK policy of not selling arms to Governments if we believe that they will be used to repress the population is welcome. I note that the Government response to the Select Committee report stresses that

I do not doubt that we compare favourably with many other nations, but that does not mean that our current system is not in need of reform. We are a major importer and exporter of arms, and I have real concerns that we are not doing enough to track the flow of guns that pass through this country.

I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to my recent attempts to establish the whereabouts of nearly 200,000 assault rifles and machine guns imported from the Balkans in 2005. I have asked a number of Departments exactly where those rifles and machine guns went. Aside from the question of why we need to import arms from the Balkans, I have been disturbed at the revelation that we do not have a clear idea of where those weapons are now. I would like to imagine that a quarter of a million assault rifles were brought in to this country to be melted down and decommissioned because the Balkans do not have the facilities to do it, in the same way as we provide facilities in Sierra Leone to melt down weapons after collections have been organised. However, the current licensing system for tracking imports and exports of arms in this country on a case-by-case basis makes it very difficult to establish a clear picture of the flow of arms through our ports.

Guns do not respect national borders, and at the moment we have no way of knowing where arms that we have exported will end up. Frequently, guns are recycled from conflict to conflict, as in west Africa during the past 10 years, which has fuelled overlapping and uncontained conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia among others. I would argue, therefore, that greater knowledge of the end use of our arms exports is of fundamental importance.

I would like the introduction of specific re-export clauses to existing licensed production agreements to be given serious consideration. Does the Secretary of State agree that that would help greatly to prevent the export of arms, produced or exported under licence, to countries of concern? I recall that the Labour 2001 manifesto included a specific commitment to introduce full extra-territorial controls on arms brokering and trafficking, and I would welcome his comments on that priority. I know that the Government have concerns about the logistics of end-use monitoring. However, given the way in which the arms trade operates, it is vital that we pay greater attention to the possibility that arms passing through the UK might end up in some of the conflict zones that we have heard about this afternoon.

We need far better co-ordination across Government to ensure that our work attempting to resolve conflicts in some of the world’s most volatile countries is not undermined by the use of the UK as a stop-over point for guns destined for conflict zones. Part of the problem is the involvement of the overlapping Departments
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quizzed in the Quadripartite Committee—the Department of Trade and Industry, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence.

Understandably, the Secretary of State’s colleagues at the DTI will be concerned that new regulations in that matter will complicate procedure and deter business, but I point to the results of a 2001 World Bank survey of 69 companies, which found that armed insecurity in fragile countries ranked as the greatest risk facing investors globally. It is in no one’s interest—business is no different—for guns from this country to exacerbate conflicts elsewhere.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that if our overseas aid and development are to be effective, we must play our part not only in attempting to resolve existing conflicts, but in ensuring that we play no part in fuelling future ones.

3.30 pm

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate, Mr. Illsley. I read the report with great interest and compliment the Chairman and the Committee on it.

The report caught my eye because during the last parliamentary summer recess I spent 10 weeks delivering reconstruction and development in Afghanistan as a member of our armed forces. The recommendation that caught my eye was number 11:

I should like to deal with two aspects of that. First, on quick-impact projects, military forces and development agencies on the ground have a great dilemma between long-term strategic impact and short-term tactical advantage. I assure hon. Members that when a person turns up in somewhere such as Helmand, they will do anything they can to convince the local people that they are there to help. However, that in itself creates a problem, because there is sometimes a lack of strategic thought behind what they are doing.

Furthermore, ultimately we do not want the military to run around delivering quick-impact projects; we want the local people in the provinces—forgive me if I use Afghanistan as an example—to view them simply as a transient force. The Government of Afghanistan should brand the projects. Sometimes it is completely counter-productive for the military to turn up and create quick-impact projects, because it looks as if the Government are so weak that they cannot deliver them. That is a problem.

I also highlight the completely contrasting approaches of the United States Agency for International Development and DFID. USAID seems to concentrate on quick-impact projects. When I looked at a map of its approach, it was almost like a scattergram—projects were going on everywhere, normally delivered by people who rarely left the security of Kandahar base and who employed third parties to deliver the projects. I hope that I do not sound too critical.

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Crucially, the projects were decided not by local people but by USAID itself. One example is the women’s centre in Qalat city. It was built without proper consultation with the local people and the end result is that a magnificent building is simply not being used; local people were not consulted and the men will not allow their women to go. That is a classic waste of money as a result of the west trying to impose its will on local people, because we think that we know what is best. Frankly, we do not.

John Battle: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s insights. I have visited Herat in Afghanistan; we are talking about the most difficult circumstances.

At the core of the “Peacebuilding” report that I mentioned was an emphasis that peacebuilding is relationship-centred—that is, it happens among the people themselves—and that it is participatory. It cannot be done to them or for them; they have to be engaged. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

Mr. Lancaster: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and makes a very valid point. I give credit to the Government and DFID for the work that we are trying to do to ensure that we create provincial development councils in Afghanistan that in turn produce their own provincial development plans so that they are the ones generating the need. Unfortunately, however, we are struggling to create that in Afghanistan.

One of our other problems with the quick-impact project is that it breeds reliance on the military structure. Further to what I have just said about provincial development councils, by constantly using a military structure early on we do not encourage the growth of the country’s civic organisation. In Afghanistan, where great progress is being made, a commander on the ground, an NGO or whoever will invariably use the military chain of command to try to work up a project, right from the point of identifying it on the ground. I went out and reccied many projects and would go to the donor community in Kabul to try to find funding for them. However, it was hard to do that because no civic structure existed.

Some structures in Afghanistan, such as the Ministry for Rural Rehabilitation and Development, work well. However, because that is the one Government organisation that is working, all projects go through that chain and other Government structures are simply left alone.

DFID has a reputation for investing in the strategic long-term development of countries—that is great, and I support it—which is different from the USAID approach. However, I was slightly concerned when, having asked some parliamentary questions, I discovered that we had been digging an awful lot of wells, up to 300 now, in Helmand. I have raised with the Secretary of State one of the criticisms that I had when I was in Afghanistan; he has been very kind in response. We have dug so many wells there that the water table has been lowered and the ancient karazes—the waterways that bring water up the mountains—have dried up. That is a classic example of short-term tactical projects affecting long-term strategic aims. When I asked whether we had done a water table survey, I discovered that we had not. To be fair to the Secretary of State, I understand why—it is very hard to
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find an NGO prepared to go into Helmand and do that. So I do not make a criticism of the Department. However, such dilemmas exist and they are one of the big problems that we face.

Recommendation 11 also mentions co-operation between Government Departments, which has already been raised. Having witnessed co-operation on the ground, I must say that it was quite good. The right hon. Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) mentioned Herat. I will never forget going to a meeting of all the NGOs, development agencies and military members for Regional Command West and witnessing an argument between two Spanish delegates. One was the military commander and the other the head of the country’s equivalent of DFID, the name of which I forget. They were arguing in public about who was supporting whom. Herat had moved on, things were relatively benign and there was not the fighting there that there was in Helmand, so two Government bodies were having a great argument about which was supporting which.

The concept of the three Ds—DFID, the MOD and diplomacy—being equal partners, a triumvirate trying to work together, was simply blown out of the window. I found that worrying. I hope that, as areas such as Helmand move away from war to a more stable environment, we learn the lesson that we, through our three Ds, must not fall into the same trap. I am not sure exactly how we should resolve the issue, but I have genuine concerns about our need to address cross-cutting across Government Departments. I also have concerns about adding a fourth Department, which may make things even worse.

John Battle: The hon. Gentleman is asking sincerely for information. He had contact and worked with the military in Afghanistan. Is the concept of conflict resolution embedded in any way in the military’s thinking or are they simply too defensive because they are under pressure? Are they proactive on the idea of peacebuilding and conflict resolution in the way that others are starting to discuss?

Mr. Lancaster: I am confident that that is the case. When a person goes, they are briefed that that is exactly their mission. That is the focus, certainly within our military.

I should like to develop the point. I have genuine concerns that, although much of the work done through DFID is excellent, sometimes, as politicians sitting here many miles away, we simply do not understand some of the problems on the ground. To give the perspective of NGOs, they would argue that they were doing great work in Helmand, for example, until we turned up. Now, all of a sudden, we have created a situation collectively in which they cannot operate. That worries me.

I want to return to my concern about quick-impact projects for my final example. I remember going to a meeting in Kandahar. As politicians, we must be very careful, but the great joy of going there as a soldier was that no one knew who I was. I listened to an American air force colonel with his head in his hands, saying, “If I am told to produce another—expletive—quick-impact project just because some politician back in Washington wants to see results, I am going to resign.”

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3.40 pm

Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): It is a great pleasure to follow such an interesting speech. I congratulate the Select Committee on International Development on an excellent report. We have heard today how complex and complicated the subject is. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) mentioned education, for example. Although that was not the main focus of the report, I hope that the Committee will at some point look further into education in conflict states. Some 80 million children are not in education in the developing world, and half of those are in conflict-affected areas. It is important to scrutinise these matters and this is an important debate.

As time is short, I shall simply focus on one subject, which is the Department of Trade and Industry’s policy on trade in conflict-affected states. When we face peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction, it is crucial that one arm of government co-ordinates with another. It sometimes feels as though the right hand of the DTI—please excuse my mixed metaphors—does not always know what the left hand of the Department for International Development is doing. More worrying is that it possibly does know, but does not accommodate the difference. If we are to be effective, we need to ensure that the whole of the British Government work in the same direction, helping and not hindering, and that different Departments do not work across each other. The Committee did some good work on pointing that out and focusing on it. It is important that the relationship between trade and aid is always considered in the light of what should be cross-departmental objectives. Sometimes, there seem to be DTI objectives and DFID objectives and occasionally they seem to conflict.

I was particularly interested by those parts of the report that deal with conflict resources. It seems to me—I am not hugely experienced in this area—that conflict can take hold easily partly because of the wealth of natural resources in some areas. Instability of governance and poverty of public resource seemingly give power—unlimited power, sometimes—to those who want to raid the natural wealth of a country. That might well be the background to the financing of the conflict, the employment of cheap labour and to a disregard of any rules laid down in that country.

The report rightly points out how trade and aid policies play an integral part in conflict-prone and conflict-affected areas. I congratulate the Committee on focusing on how trade policies can counteract development rather than promote it. That is something that is within our—I say “our”, but I mean the Secretary of State’s—power to resolve. Mechanisms are available for cross-departmental objectives and working.

We have seen such problems before. The al-Yamamah deal is perhaps the best known example, and another is the sale of the over-sophisticated military air traffic control to Tanzania that we debated recently. They seem to fly in the face of all that we claim to want to achieve in aiding poor countries. Interestingly for me, the report uses some lesser known examples, which have been raised by other Members and demonstrate the same problem. Trade policy has
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not been in line with that of the Department for International Development. I am unclear about what the Government are doing to tackle the problems with conflict resources. What is being done? It would seem not much.

For example, in their response to paragraph 102, the Government say that

I agree that an international definition of “conflict resource” is not the answer to life as we know it. It might be helpful, but the lack of such an international definition should not stop the British Government from tackling the problems. We have our part to play and should not be waiting for the international community.

My right hon. Friend raised the issue of the UN panel’s calling something “resolved” when that is the wrong definition: the issue is not resolved, and so the process should not have finished. The challenge for the Government of a conflict-affected country is to ensure that natural resources bring benefits to all the people and not simply those in the country who are corrupt.

I would be grateful if the Secretary of State would outline exactly what the British Government are doing to address the illegal exploitation of natural resources in conflict-affected states. When I asked him that question earlier this month, he replied:

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